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Posted in Q&A

CREA Brings Power Semiconductor Know-how to Advantest 

By GO SEMI & Beyond staff

In June 2022, Advantest announced its acquisition of Italian ATE company CREA. As leading developer and provider of equipment for testing power semiconductors, CREA brings vital capabilities to Advantest’s portfolio of test solutions. To delve further into the acquisition and how it will benefit Advantest’s customers, we talked with Fabio Marino, director of Advantest’s Power, Analog and Controller Business.

Q: What prompted Advantest to pursue adding power semiconductor test to its capabilities?

A. When considering any strategic action, we are guided by our Grand Design, which defines the commitments and strategies needed to further our goal of enabling leading-edge technologies by adding customer value throughout the semiconductor value chain. This goes hand in hand with looking at relevant market and technology advancements.

Until recently, the high-voltage power device market was a niche, low-volume market. However, fast-growing adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) is driving heightened demand for discrete components. Demand for power semiconductors is growing significantly in response to the need to utilize power more efficiently for EV applications – we expect the market for these devices to grow by 10x over the next eight years. As a result, we realized we would need to pursue this market by bringing power semiconductor test into our portfolio.

Q. Why was CREA selected for acquisition?

A. While there are several suppliers of power semiconductor testers, we determined that CREA was the best fit for Advantest because of several factors, including its:

  • Superior technology platform, which covers both static and dynamic power test, proven over 30 years;
  • Expertise in compound semiconductors, including silicon carbide (SiC) and gallium nitride (GaN);
  • Strong installed base, with more than 200 testers installed at semiconductor makers worldwide; and
  • Synergistic business approach, viewing customers as partners, with the goal of full solutions and support for customers’ testing needs.

Q. How is CREA being integrated into Advantest?

A. CREA will remain headquartered in Italy as a wholly owned subsidiary of Advantest Europe, within our ATE Business Group. CREA’s management team is continuing to run the subsidiary, with Advantest providing additional team support as needed.

Q. Can you talk about the company’s portfolio a bit? What makes it such a strong addition to Advantest’s offerings?

A. CREA’s proprietary technologies are key to its power device test capabilities. These include its PCI probe card interface, vital for known good die (KGD) and wafer test; LSI low stray inductance technology, essential to reduce parasite effects during test; and RTH remote test head, which works in conjunction with LSI to achieve high performance up to 1.5m away from the tester to enable handler and wafer prober use for mass production.

These products are integrated into CREA’s tester line, which comprises three product families:

  • The MT100 family, with a range of voltages and currents, which covers test requirements for static parameters from dies to complex configuration modules;
  • The MT200 family, which adds dynamic and combined parameter test to reach ranges up to 10 kV and 10 kA; and
  • The MT300 family, designed to satisfy the market’s most stringent requirements.

The CREA portfolio also includes turnkey solutions incorporating its fixture system, as well as manual and automated handlers.

Q. How do customers view the acquisition?

A. Customer reaction has been very positive. CREA has developed an excellent reputation over its 30 years of existence, and customers understand the strengths their test systems bring to Advantest and how they benefit in return. CREA will retain, to a large extent, the fast response time and flexibility it enjoyed as a standalone company, while, as a subsidiary of Advantest, its development team will have access to our broad corporate resources and collective knowledge base, which will benefit their ongoing technology advancement efforts. We’re excited by the opportunities the CREA acquisition provides for increasing customer value by enabling us to jointly develop new solutions to meet customers’ future demands.

In addition, by integrating CREA’s product lineups, development capabilities, customer base, and outstanding technical team into Advantest, we’ll be able to expand our solutions for power semiconductors. This will benefit both our company and our customers by allowing us to directly contribute to the broad goal of realizing a Net-Zero society. 

Q. What’s the bottom line for Advantest with this acquisition?

A. We intend to be a key player in the high-power market, and we believe that the technology CREA brings to the table will give us a competitive advantage, allowing us to have a significant market share. Moreover, CREA’s synergy with our established customer relations and global account setup will combine to help drive sales for these power semiconductor test products. 

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Q&A Interview with Don Blair and Ronald Goerke

 By GO SEMI & Beyond staff 

This year, Advantest’s VOICE Developer Conference returns to in-person following 2021’s Virtual VOICE International. VOICE 2022 takes place May 17-18 at the OMNI Scottsdale Resort and Spa Montelucia in Scottsdale, Arizona. Don Blair, business development manager for Advantest, and Ronald Goerke, U.S. chair for VOICE 2022, sat down with our staff to talk about what attendees can look forward to at this year’s event. 


Q. Before we dive into VOICE 2022, let’s take a quick look back at last year’s online event. How did it go, and what did you learn from Virtual VOICE attendees?

A.  We had very high attendance last year – more than 400 registrants with 320 live event attendees. With the pandemic preventing people from traveling, we weren’t entirely sure what to expect, but thanks to the brand recognition we’ve built for VOICE over the past 15 years, enthusiasm to participate was strong.

The virtual event adhered to the brand, which is to be not esoteric or theoretical, but to impart practical, high-value information. The attendee feedback from 2021 underscores this: 97% recommended the event to colleagues; 93% called it a valuable use of their time; 91% said the technical program focused on problem solving; and 87% said they learned skills that were directly applicable to their jobs. [Note: Articles based on last year’s attendee-chosen Best Papers can be found in the November 2021 issue of GO SEMI & Beyond.]


Q. What is the VOICE brand? What makes the event unique?

A. The test engineers who develop programs for our tester platforms are the catalysts for producing the content that’s presented at VOICE – it’s truly created by engineers for engineers. The focus is on providing information that’s not only interesting and engaging, but also highly applicable to everyday test engineering. Every year, attendees tell us that they come away from the event with practical knowledge that they’ll be able to put to use right away.

Not only are the papers presented during the conference itself eminently useful – VOICE is the only ATE industry event that also offers an in-depth day of workshops that allow attendees to obtain hands-on experience. Workshop Day, which takes place on May 19, offers the opportunity to write test programs and compile and debug code in a real-time, no-risk setting. This year’s workshops will offer a deep dive into: EXA Scale DUT Board Design, Advanced RF Test Techniques, Edge Computing with our ACS Edge 2.0 solution, and Battery Management System testing.


Q. What are some of the hot trends and topics for 2022?

A. We have more than 80 presentations being given across nine topical tracks, including two that are new this year: High-Performance Digital (HPD), and Emerging New Market Trends and Drivers. The tracks that comprise the most papers include Test Methodologies and 5G/Millimeter Wave, as well as HPD. [Note: The full technical program is available here.]
A prime focus at this year’s VOICE event is the exascale computing story. In this age of convergence, smaller-geometry nodes are driving a multitude of changes in the industry, driving demand for “more”: vector memory, power, power domains, data, multi-site testing, etc. The sheer volume of data coming from multiple sources must be processed, creating the need for exascale computing. Combine this with the huge trend toward digital parts, which enables greater quantities of smaller devices to be fabricated on a single wafer, and you have a pressing need for testing at the exascale level. At VOICE, you’ll be hearing more about this topic and how we engineered our V93000 EXA Scale system to target advanced digital ICs at the exascale performance class.

Another topic drawing increased attention this year is testing for automotive applications. We have a variety of papers being presented that cover such topics as power management and battery management for electric cars, automotive loadboard design, and testing challenges related to automated capabilities such as ADAS [automated driver assist systems]. 

The use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) techniques continues grow, as these technologies can help improve test flows and test times, as well as boost yields. A related area of development is adaptive test capabilities, which use AI/ML algorithms to build knowledge about a wafer lot and adjust decision-making and actions accordingly. An example of this is our recently announced ACS Adaptive Probe Cleaning solution.

ACS APC is part of the Factory Automation track, another topic that has grown in popularity. With the push to make fabs and foundries more automated, companies are looking to cut costs, but they need ways to ensure processes are reliable and repeatable; otherwise, there’s no value in making these changes.


Q. VOICE always features a unique mix of keynote speakers. Whom can we look forward to hearing from in May?

A.  We have some dynamic speakers on tap. Our first two keynotes are on Tuesday morning, May 17, leading off with David Eagleman, a Stanford neuroscientist, bestselling author, and host of the PBS series “The Brain.” Dr. Eagleman is known for his work in such areas as sensory substitution, time perception, brain plasticity, synesthesia, and neurolaw. His keynote will focus on how the brain works and its biggest mysteries.  He will also talk about a new way to pass information to the brain using brain/machine interfaces.

Next up will be Steve Pateras, VP of marketing and business development at Synopsys. With more than 30 years’ experience in test-related technology, Steve is currently focused on driving Synopsys’ expansion into silicon lifecycle management, which is the focus of his talk, titled “Why It’s a Good Thing to Have Your Test Head in the Clouds.” Severe silicon device shortages, combined with ever-increasing device and system complexities, are driving the need to maximize both manufacturing yield and test efficiency like never before. Steve will talk about this, citing the need for a new test ecosystem to enable secure, high-bandwidth data communication between devices on testers and analytics engines situated either near each tester for low-latency actions or in the cloud for Big Data-driven optimizations.

On Wednesday morning, May 18, our third speaker will be the always popular G. Dan Hutcheson, vice chair at TechInsights/VLSIresearch. Following his talk on the latest chip industry trends and drivers, Dan will explore these themes at greater length during a virtual fireside chat session with Manish Bhatia, executive VP of global operations at Micron Technology.


Q. What else should attendees plan to check out at VOICE 2022?

A.  The event will kick off Monday evening, May 16, with a welcome reception and the opening of the Technology Kiosk Showcase, where you can connect with experts to discuss test challenges and engineering solutions based on the latest Advantest innovations. At the Partners’ Expo, open throughout both Tuesday and Wednesday, our technology partners will be available to chat with attendees about their latest test offerings and solutions.

VOICE 2022 will close out Wednesday afternoon with the closing award ceremony, where we’ll recognize this year’s best papers and honorable mentions, as well as the 2022 Visionary Award recipient. Last year’s inaugural Visionary Award recognized Derek Lee, a test engineering manager with Nvidia and longtime presenter and participant at VOICE.

After not taking place in 2020 and being held virtually in 2021, VOICE 2022 will be a welcome return to normal. We look forward to seeing everyone at our beautiful venue in Scottsdale.

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Q&A Advantest Cloud Solutions Ecosystem

Q&A Interview with Keith Schaub

By GO SEMI & Beyond staff

Earlier this year, our Q&A feature took a high-level look at Advantest’s cloud strategy and its role in helping to drive Advantest’s Grand Design. For this issue, we spoke once again with Keith Schaub, Vice President of Technology and Strategy, to drill down a bit more into the specifics of the Advantest Cloud Solutions (ACS) ecosystem.  

Q. First off, please explain what ACS is.

A. ACS is an open ecosystem created to help customers accomplish intelligent data-driven workflows. Architected to seamlessly connect and interoperate with customers’ existing data platforms, ACS comprises a family of cloud-based products and technologies based on a single scalable data platform. Conceptually, it’s similar to other cloud-powered service offerings you may be familiar with, but with a specific focus on enabling secure testing in the cloud. To this end, a key aspect of our efforts in this regard is education: customers need to know that their data and IP are protected when fed into ACS products.

Q. What products fall under the ACS umbrella?

A. We have deployed three production solutions in the ACS ecosystem thus far: the ACS Test Engineering Cloud (TE-Cloud™); ACS Dynamic Parametric Test (DPT™); and ACS Edge. Each of these solutions has a specific and complementary function that users can access and control via ACS in the cloud.

Q. Can you offer a brief description of each solution, and how they work together?

A.  ACS TE-Cloud is our test engineering solution platform that features a complete test development environment with an integrated set of software tools for developing V93000 test programs. TE-Cloud is a Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) solution hosted in the cloud, which customers can access on demand anytime and from any location. Once logged in, they can remotely access V93000 testers without having to make a capital investment in physical test equipment. This makes TE-Cloud highly valuable for small startups, giving them easy remote access to tester resources at Advantest’s labs and those of our partners.

ACS DPT focuses on DC parametric test, also known as WAT or e-Test, typically performed in-line during wafer fabrication and at end-of-line when wafers are shipping from fab to wafer sort. DPT runs on all V93000 SMU8 parametric test systems, giving users greater control of the test flow as a function of the Process Control Monitoring (PCM) data. The product was jointly developed between Advantest and PDF Solutions and is built on their PDF Exensio® data analytics platform. Users across multiple geographies are implementing ACS DPT to apply test algorithms and die map topology, allowing them to gain greater insight into the causes of any unexpected results. The customer can use DPT to respond instantly to any issues, saving tester and engineering time, and to improve test cell efficiency by adjusting rules criteria and delivering downstream instructions to wafer sort.


ACS Edge is a high-performance, highly secure compute and analytics solution that lets users offload demanding workloads from the ATE host controller yet execute them much more quickly. The product connects to a user’s test equipment via a private, high-speed encrypted link to enable ultrafast decision-making during test execution. The user can develop compute-intensive applications that operate in near-real time on data generated by tests in the test program.

Data security is vital when dealing with testing at the edge. The applications are wrapped in a Docker container to simplify global distribution and management, while hardening them against compute environment changes. When it’s time to load the program, applications are pulled securely onto ACS Edge from the Container Hub, encrypted data is sent to ACS Edge and processed by the machine learning application, and the results are returned to the test program. All data and analytics IP are protected within a Zero Trust environment.

Q: You cite data protection, and you mentioned earlier educating customers about the security of their data. What does this entail?

A: It’s important for our customers to understand that Advantest uses Zero Trust principles to protect their data. The Zero Trust network security model is based on the principle of maintaining strict access controls over data and not trusting anyone by default, even those already inside the network perimeter. It requires strict identity verification for every person and device trying to access resources on a private network. It’s important to customers that we have these safeguards in place.

Q: What is the bottom-line impact for customers utilizing Advantest Cloud Solutions?

A: The ACS open ecosystem helps customers get more value out of their supply chain with focused workflow solutions for each stage of the IC design and manufacturing process. By implementing our ACS products and services, customers can boost their quality, yield, and operational efficiencies. Moreover, they can speed their product development efforts and thus introduce future products to market more quickly.

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Q&A Interview with Don Blair


By GO SEMI & Beyond staff

This year marks the 15th anniversary of VOICE, the annual Advantest Developer Conference. Held in past years as two separate in-person events in the U.S. and Asia, VOICE was cancelled in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This year, International VOICE will be a single, unified event, held virtually from June 21-23. Don Blair, business development manager for Advantest, brings 30 years of test industry experience to his advisory role on the VOICE 2021 committee. We sat down with him to talk about the upcoming event, its evolution, and what attendees should make sure not to miss. 

Q. What are the key benefits of attending VOICE?

A. VOICE was created by and for test engineers, who develop programs for our various tester platforms. The key value it provides is that it gives them practical solutions they can immediately implement to help them do their jobs better and more efficiently. That’s what has kept many engineers coming back every year while continuing to attract new attendees. We deliver sessions on the latest technologies with practical, hands-on solutions that engineers can immediately implement in their jobs.

Q. How has the event evolved over the past 15 years?

A. In the beginning, we struggled a bit with establishing value for the VOICE brand. We were focused on giving great technical papers, but they didn’t necessarily help solve a customer problem or provide content that attendees or customers could take back to their jobs. We began focusing on making sure the papers were relevant and applicable to customer challenges, and we formed a technical committee of 50 or so members that review the papers and determine which ones are accepted, geared toward meeting customer needs. It’s akin to making the shift from pure R&D to solution-focused development and production.

Q. What do you anticipate will be the hottest topics at this year’s VOICE?

A. Key topics to be covered by a wide range of papers include 5G (the most popular topic at VOICE for the past few years), parametric test, factory automation and what we refer to as the Age of Convergence, i.e., the convergence of cloud technology, rising computing speed and massive memory requirements. This has created demand for exascale-performance digital ICs, driving the need for our new test platform specifically targeting this technology: the V93000 EXA Scale™ family of SoC test systems. This prevalent trend informs the theme for VOICE 2021: “Converging Technologies. Creating Possibilities.”

On the factory automation front, we’re doing a paper this year with our customer ST Microelectronics regarding our jointly developed automated test cell. Using the technology, ST has created a 100% lights-out factory automation environment – network run, no human intervention required – at its facility in Malaysia. 

With respect to parametric test, our other recent launch is our Dynamic Parametric Test (DPT) solution – a data-analytics-focused software enhancement to the Advantest V93000 SMU8 parametric test system, built on PDF Exensio® software from PDF Solutions. Demand for DPT is on the rise, as well, to aid in speeding automation and decision-making on the factory floor. [NOTE: For more on Advantest DPT, please click here.]

Q. In addition to the high-value papers presented, VOICE is known for its dynamic keynotes. Who is on tap to speak this year?

A. We have some great speakers lined up for 2021. On Tuesday, June 22, the keynote will be given by Dr. Kate Darling, an expert in social robotics. In her role as a research specialist for MIT Media Lab, she investigates social robotics and conducts experimental studies on human-robot interaction.

On Wednesday, June 23, our keynoter will be Fredi Lajvardi, VP of STEM initiatives at Si Se Puede Foundation, which is located in Chandler, Arizona, and provides a range of services and educational opportunities for under-served populations. Fred is a passionate advocate of STEM programs and will be talking about his experience helping a group of disadvantaged high school students become a champion robotics team.

Our third speaker is Dan Hutcheson, CEO of VLSIresearch, Inc. Well known throughout the semiconductor industry, Dan will deliver a pre-recorded address [available through the end of August] titled “The New Post-COVID, Post-Global Era: Semiconductor Industry Macro Trends.” His talk will touch on critical IC markets, such as 5G, IoT and AI, to name a few.

Q. What are some other highlights that attendees can look forward to this year?

A. In addition to the 70 presentations organized across eight topical tracks, we’ll be offering a Technology Kiosk Showcase featuring the latest test solutions through live presentations and virtual booths, and a virtual Partners’ Expo highlighting innovative semiconductor test solutions. One advantage of the virtual event is that you won’t have to miss sessions of interest in different tracks that are being held concurrently. Since all the sessions will be recorded, you can attend some live and view others later on demand.

In addition to the three-day VOICE conference, we’ll be offering a Workshop Day on Thursday, June 24. This event requires separate registration and will offer a deep dive into several key topics, which include 5G/mmWave, ACS Edge Computing and High Performance Computation device testing. The sessions will provide not only information on the latest semiconductor testing techniques and methodology, but also hands-on experience via web-hosted virtual machines. This will give engineers a unique opportunity to learn live in a virtual classroom setting, and they’ll be able to access all the materials for three months after the workshop.

Q. Anything else our readers should know?

A. Our sponsors have been invaluable in helping us develop the 2021 International VOICE conference. In particular, I’d like to acknowledge our two Headline Sponsors: AllianceATE Consulting Group is an OEM partner for Advantest with its Velocity CAE software and Applications Services; and ISE Labs ASE Group is the industry’s largest semiconductor engineering service provider. We have longstanding relationships with these firms, which, like all of our valued sponsors, will have booths at the virtual expo that attendees can visit and learn more about their test-related offerings.

We realize the last 18 months have been challenging – to say the least – for our industry and the world. We’re encouraged to see things beginning to return to pre-pandemic normal, and we look forward to holding in-person conferences again in years to come.

For 2021, we’re excited to have put together a robust virtual program that maintains the high quality of content and presenters that engineers have come to expect from VOICE. We look forward to “seeing” you there and to receiving your feedback and suggestions so that we can continue to raise the bar on this premier test event.


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Q&A Interview with Keith Schaub and Benjamin Lobmueller

By GO SEMI & Beyond staff

Advantest’s Grand Design sets goals for how the company will grow its business and markets over the next decade by integrating its solutions throughout the semiconductor value chain. Its cloud strategy is a vital aspect of this vision. To learn more, we talked with Keith Schaub, Vice President of Technology and Strategy, Advantest America, and Benjamin Lobmueller, New Business Development Manager, Advantest Europe. Their comments are aggregated below.

Q. What is the primary objective of your cloud strategy?

A. If you look at the semiconductor value chain [Figure 1], our core business, including our IC testers, handlers, and production processes, is in the middle. On the left-hand side, we’re mainly partnering with the EDA companies, and our focus is on design validation and verification. And on the right-hand side, we’re moving into system-level testing – this includes our acquisitions of Astronics’ System Level Test business (now ATS) and Essai, which added test sockets to our offerings. We’ve been working on these go-left and go-right strategies, as we call them, for several years. Now that those pieces are in place, we are focusing on our go-up strategy.

Figure 1. The cloud, AI and data analytics are the next steps in fulfilling the Advantest Grand Design.

For the most part, the data obtained from these processes and test cells is siloed. Customers use the data for their statistical techniques and yield improvements individually per process step, but none of it’s tied together cohesively. Our cloud strategy is to take all of these various process steps and use the cloud, AI and data analytics to connect them across the entire chain. Once you apply analytics and machine learning, you can predict the performance of future test insertions, to predict yields, outliers, even grades of performance, for instance. But this only works reliably if you have a system that spans the entire value chain.

These predictions then let you optimize what you’re going to do at a particular insertion based on information from the entire supply chain. If you know to expect good performance, you may need a less rigorous test. If performance is more marginal, rather than scrapping a device, perhaps you could perform additional testing that would allow it to become a tier-two device that would be viable to sell into a different market.

So, by tying all of these things together and applying AI and data analytics capabilities across the entire value chain, our customers and partners can optimize their insertions, whether for yield, quality, or cost. The systems can start to learn and improve over time. In a nutshell, that’s what this cloud approach is all about for us.

Q. How does this help make the customer’s job easier?

A. The hard part of what we’re trying to solve with this infrastructure is all the work you have to put in to get to the point where you can actually do analytics. Before you can analyze your data, many things have to happen, and what we’re doing with our cloud solutions is removing that burden from our customers.

For instance, if you have multiple insertions, you might have one process step in your supply chain in Taiwan and another one in Korea, while you are headquartered in Silicon Valley. How do you bridge that gap and bring together data from all those places? That’s where Advantest Cloud Solutions come in. We take away the tedious task of getting all your data in place so that you are better able to take advantage of real-time analytics, AI and machine learning techniques.

Q. What are some challenges of this approach?

A. Creating the infrastructure and getting all of these systems and customers to agree involves much cooperation. Everyone brings a separate piece to the table, and reaching consensus on the value can be challenging. So, while there are technical challenges, the business challenges are equal and sometimes even more significant.

We’re also taking away the difficulties from the information security side. Everyone has their security concerns – customers, OSATs, and us, of course – and those concerns need to be addressed. Advantest Cloud infrastructure is laying in all the necessary security nodes and layers, so that everything is protected appropriately.

Q. How do the new offerings fit into this strategy?

A. In December, as part of what we’re calling our Advantest Cloud Solutions [ACS] ecosystem, we announced Advantest Cloud powered by PDF Exensio, a data- and analytics-focused platform that we’re co-developing with PDF Solutions, as well as the ACS Dynamic Parametric Test powered by PDF Exensio.

This partnership came about when we decided to look at the best-in-class infrastructure pieces already available. In the process, we determined PDF Solutions to be the ideal partner. Their infrastructure is already in place with a large customer base. They have proven analytics tools that many customers use for decades, especially in the business’s foundry-side. With this partnership, they can continue to use those tools and expand to the industry’s test-side, and we can tie it in deeply to our infrastructure.

Our ACS products provide feedback on a wide range of processes, from semiconductor design validation to manufacturing, chip test, and system-level test – across all the different products and systems. This allows customers to get more value out of their supply chain, equipment, and test data, and get to yield faster. We can now give the customer a fully integrated infrastructure with analytics out of the box.

Q. How does all this work together to integrate the supply chain?

A. We’ve encapsulated that in Figure 2, which shows how the process steps work together with the Advantest Cloud as our corporate umbrella. It’s easy to say that we can just tie all these systems together, but these systems are not with one customer. They’re supplied by different customers of ours, working together for other customers of ours, in different geographies, and using different systems in many cases. For example, what format do you use to share the data? How do you protect the data as it moves from Customer A to Customer B? This illustration highlights what will be capable once all of this is in place.

Figure 2. Advantest Cloud Solutions deliver cross-supply-chain feed-forward/feedback capability.

It’s crucial to feed data forward in some cases, i.e., take data from a previous insertion to push it forward in the process and use that data in some intelligent way at a later stage. But it’s equally important to be able to have the data feed backward to improve your process. Say you find some problem at system-level test – it is invaluable to correlate back the possible causes so that you can predict the problem before it occurs in the future. Figure 2 is a graphical representation of different ways to feed data forward and backwards and what you would need to do that. The DEX network, which comes from PDF, has already solved many of the technological security challenges and includes measures to secure the data appropriately.

Q. Briefly, how does the ACS Dynamic Parametric Test product work?

A. The idea with ACS Dynamic Parametric Test powered by PDF Exensio is that we are essentially replicating product-engineering capability on the tester near real-time. What does that mean? What happens today is that a batch of wafers comes into a fab. They go onto a parametric tester. If there’s a problem, it’s typically assessed sometime later by an expert product engineer. This process carries a time cost – if something happens on a Thursday or Friday, it sits there over the weekend, and three or four days are lost. Meanwhile, the tester is booked for another job next week, so you have to deal with retesting everything and gathering the data.

The solution is ACS DPT, which utilizes the data analytics platform of PDF Exensio and uses a real-time rules engine to make decisions on the fly, while tests are conducted. So, when something starts to go awry with the measurements, the rules engine kicks in and flags it as a potential problem, taking extra data on all the nearest surrounding die. Once the test engineer looks at the situation, he or she has all of these additional bits of information to debug it. A much more intelligent decision can be made, much faster, and it can save millions of dollars when you consider multiple testers and multiple wafer lots.

Q. What else are you doing in the cloud?

A. We want to touch on a couple more things. The first is ACS Test Engineering Cloud, or ACS TE-Cloud, a service we’ve had for a while that we’ve now rolled up under our Advantest Cloud Solutions. It’s cloud-based test engineering that allows engineers to have an on-demand test program development environment. This capability is a game-changer, of course, for large companies, during a pandemic. Engineers can just keep working with the high performance they need, wherever they are. But it’s particularly beneficial for smaller players – new players in the market, for example, or startups or other ventures that need these tester services and don’t have a fleet of workstations to jump on. TE-Cloud gives them the environment to get the job done without investing millions of dollars in infrastructure that they may not need all the time.

With this service, we have flexible subscriptions available on demand. It’s very popular with our customers in China. They get remote access to our testers, we take care of all the hassles of infrastructure, and they don’t have to worry about calibration or maintenance. Again, many of these are tiny startups that can’t afford to buy a million-dollar machine just to get started. This way, they can get access to the test capability they need on demand.

The second thing we want to mention is Advantest Dojo, which we officially launched last summer. Dojo is our e-learning training environment in the cloud. Customers can get access to all training materials, videos and consulting, for different testers and services. It’s all being put under one umbrella to look and feel the same across geographies and the customer base. Customers pay a per-use fee to access this material, which application engineers within Advantest are continually updating to ensure the latest and greatest information is available.

Finally, there is another new product, the ACS Edge high-performance computing system. There’s some confusion over cloud and edge, and why you need one versus the other. You do need both of them, and they have different use cases and value propositions.

What the Edge means for us is that it’s right there at the test cell. The tester business model is that people pay by the second, so they want chips to go through as fast as possible. To make a prediction, you need to send data somewhere and get back an answer, as quickly as possible, about whether the part is good, bad or marginal. We optimize this with ACS Edge. It sits right next to the tester and plugs into the tester itself – the data streams directly over to it, and you get the lowest-latency HPC that you can get. You’re taking a supercomputer and plugging it into the tester so that you can make inferences with virtually no delay. You can think of it as bringing a data center to the test floor, or turning the test floor into a data center.

With ACS, we’re bringing both edge and cloud to the customer so that they can think up new use cases that employ data analytics and machine learning in both ultra-real time and post-insertion to get the predictive and high performance compute capabilities they need, most effectively, with the least impact on test cost.

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Q&A Interview: Moving Test to the Fast Lane


In this issue, our Q&A interview subject is Steve Pateras, Senior Director of Test Marketing for Synopsys. Steve provides a look at a new test capability, jointly developed by Synopsys and Advantest, that leverages high-speed communication interfaces such as USB and PCIexpress to improve test throughput. (NOTE: This piece was originally intended to serve as a preview of Steve’s VOICE 2020 keynote address; although canceled this year, the conference will return in 2021, as will Steve.)

Q: What was the catalyst for developing this approach?

A: The industry is always looking for new ways to improve test throughput, in order to reduce test times and costs. As chip designs get larger and larger, you need more test data, so to keep test costs in line, you need to improve bandwidth to get better throughput.

Moore’s Law kept things growing and increasing in complexity over the past several decades, but periodically, fundamental paradigm shifts needed to happen. The first was in the 1980s, when we moved to structural test because chips had become too complex to cover all possible failure modes using functional verification. Looking only at the I/Os related to flip-flop scan chains, rather than every functional I/O, became the new norm, and this worked well for a couple of decades.

By 2000, scan alone had become inefficient – the number of scan chains and I/Os to scan kept growing larger and larger, and the sheer volume of data was too massive to store on the tester. This led to the next paradigm shift: compression channel I/O. Data is compressed on the tester, then sent to the chip, where it is decompressed on-the-fly into multiple scan chains. Again, this reduced the number of I/Os and test times to a manageable amount. Another 20 years passed, which brings us to today.

As chip features shrink down to 14nm, then to 7nm and beyond, we’re still seeing exponential growth in the numbers of patterns and pattern test data. We’ve again reached the point where we can’t accommodate the volume – even compressed, there is too much data to be stored, and it takes too long to scan data in and out. It’s time for a new approach.

Q: You’re talking about the next paradigm shift?

A: Exactly. Structural (scan) patterns form the primary test for digital logic – more patterns are required to maintain quality, with larger designs requiring more manufacturing tests, and new process nodes demanding advanced fault tests. At some point, things start to break; how do you achieve the necessary bandwidth when you have limited tester speeds and a limited number of available pins? Figure 1 shows real-time bandwidth limitations – that is, the actual number of gigabits you’d need to test some of the newer, larger devices. Existing approaches can’t accommodate moving from tens to hundreds of gigabits per second, let alone into the terabit range. 

Figure 1. As data volumes increase with device complexity, test times rise sharply.

What we’ve been developing with Advantest is the use of high-speed functional I/O (HSIO) to increase bandwidth. Instead of feeding the compression logic onto the chip via dedicated scan I/O, we’re using very high-speed serial functional interfaces, i.e., USB and PCIexpress, to achieve this. Once the data is entered, we can convert it into the parallel data we need to feed the compression logic. We use these very high-speed serial inputs to get the required bandwidth, and then we parallelize this widely to all the many parallel scan chains on the chip. 

Q: How is the parallelism achieved?

A: Via the on-chip logic that we provide, which works essentially like a transformer. It allows for very large amounts of data coming without the need for dedicated, lower-speed I/Os. We’re essentially reusing the high-speed interfaces that exist on virtually every chip today. Instead of reinventing the wheel and adding more dedicated pins per test, we simply piggyback on top of these interfaces during the test process to send high-speed test data through them [Figure 2].

Reusing these existing high-bandwidth functional interfaces offers three key benefits: it reduces test time; it eliminates the need for dedicated test I/O; and it provides test portability through the product lifecycle. 

Figure 2. Reusing HSIO protocols improves scan bandwidth, significantly lowering test times.

Q: How long has the new solution been in development, and what does it entail?

A: We’ve been working with Advantest on this new HSIO paradigm for over two years, combining key components from our TestMAX suite of software with Advantest’s V93000 SoC tester. The solution entails three key aspects, summarized in Figure 3:

  1. Packetizing manufacturing test data to accommodate HSIO protocols. Integrated into the V93000, our software [dark green box] takes traditional parallel data from ATPG tools, converts it into high-speed packet data, then depacketizes the data coming back and maps it to known failure descriptions.
  2. Enabling the tester to accommodate this approach [light green box]. Testers themselves need to be able to drive data through these high-speed interfaces, so through this joint effort, Advantest has added new hardware onto the V93000 to provide the HSIO function and ensure their SmarTest software can work with it.
  3. Ensuring the chips can handle this high-speed packet data. We devised a bidirectional HSIO-to-DFT interface controller, which is added to the chip as IP [dark grey box] to actively manage incoming high-speed packet data on one end and receive the parallelized lower-speed test data on the other.

HSIO Test Paradigm Diagram

Figure 3. The new HSIO test paradigm integrates key software, hardware and on-chip functionality.

In addition, our Adaptive Learning Engine (ALE) adds more intelligence to the test process. It allows our software to actively look at failure data coming back from the device and adapt the test to deal with the kind of failures that are being seen on the tester, as well as perform more advanced diagnostics. This can be performed locally on individual testers, as well as on a Big Data level – each tester on the floor can send its results to a centralized analytics engine analyzing results and looking for systematic issues across multiple devices over time. In this way, we can help to greatly improve the test process at the test-floor level.

For more details, real-world examples and updates on this new high-speed functional I/O test paradigm, make plans now to attend Steve’s keynote address at VOICE 2021 in Scottsdale, Ariz.

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